His big sisters were playing with dolls and well into their fun when my little fellow woke up from his afternoon nap.
“Mommy, I have nothing to do.” I knew those words were code for feelings he did not know how to express. He was lonely and wanting a playmate.
Loneliness is familiar to everyone on this planet. We have all experienced becoming a growing epidemic in our culture. I know we would like to point our finger to blame social distancing or technology for the surge in loneliness, but the truth is loneliness has always been among us. It isn’t about whether one is married or single, on Facebook or not, healthy or sick, rich or poor, or any particular circumstance. Loneliness can accompany anyone, at any season in life.
A little child can be lonely as he or she navigates his place in his home.
A teen can feel lonely as he or she wrestles with changes within and in his or her life.
A young bride can feel incredibly lonely as she navigates her first years of marriage.
Young mother’s feel lonely as they wrestle through the challenges of their world being consumed by little cries and little voices.
A mother can feel lonely and lost after her last child moves from the home.
Divorce, singleness, death, and crisis’ in life make people feel very much alone.
Loneliness is not about companionship. A person can be in a group of other people and still feel lonely. A wife can be in a wonderful marriage and still feel lonely. If a person feels that he or she is not seen or heard will feel lonely.
I have noticed three different causes of loneliness.
1. A person becomes lonely when he or she feels like no one understands.
2. A person will feel lonely when she or he is not truly listened to.
3. A person feels lonely when he or she feel unnoticed, unseen, and invisible.
Sometimes just one of those reasons can be present. For some folks, all of those reasons can be combined to cause loneliness.
Life can present each person moments of internal solitude for various reasons. And it is important to note that what might make one person feel lonely, may not be an issue at all to another person. We are all different and it is good to keep that in mind when we do not understand why someone is lonely.
If we take time to consider it, we all have struggles, do struggle, and will struggle with seasons of loneliness.
As believers, it is important we can look out for each other during these seasons. Some friends may have times that last a long while or become permanent fixtures of loneliness. For others, loneliness comes and goes throughout various seasons.
Loneliness has accompanied my soul through various seasons of life. Having experienced loneliness myself, I have learned to recognize some clues in the hearts of someone else who is lonely.
My mother was good at teaching me from a young age to love lonely people. Some mothers tend to only plan visits to people who have children their own age. Although I have many memories with friends, I also have a lot of memories visiting older couples as we grew. We often would visit with widows and widowers, older couples, and those with no family. We even had some single friends live with us as they went through difficult seasons.
I too, now include a variety of ages in my children’s life. I find those relationships to be so symbiotic. Lonely people often are cheered more by my children than by me. And relationships with lonely people are an amazing training ground for my children to learn to think of other people.
Just like my mom did, I will give a synopsis of our friend before we go so my children know that person’s story. It helps my children to know how to interact with that person, and also helps them to behave well.
I might say something like this: “Mrs. Doodle’s husband died one year ago, and yesterday she just found out that she has something bad growing in her body. So we are going to take her dinner a some flowers today.” I try to make sure my children understand the seriousness and value of our visit. Generally each one of them will express compassion in some form like writing a note or giving a hug.
Just as my mother included her children in the time she spent with the lonely, my mother also taught me to recognize the symptoms of loneliness in people. I will never forget going with my mother to visit my great aunt. She was a widow and in her eighties. We spent the weekend with her. She wasn’t the same person I remembered visiting as a child. She talked without ceasing and seemed a easily agitated. When going home, I complained to my mother about my aunt. My mother’s response was simple. “She is lonely.” Then my Aunt’s behavior made complete sense. And I felt sorry for my frustration with her. I still am able to recognize symptoms of loneliness in people as a result of that visit to my Great Aunt.
Symptoms of Loneliness:
- Lonely people talk…a lot. Lonely people seem unconscious of another person’s time. They seem unconscious how many times a conversation has been ended and restarted. Lonely people are simply happy to linger in conversations. I have had phone conversations that lingered on and on, even as the person on the other end of the line acknowledges that they need to let me go. We had a sweet neighbor a few years ago who lived alone in her eighties. She never let us just “stop in” every visit was a sit down visit, then a tour of the stuff around the house, then she prattled on and on, and often sent us home with little trinkets or some sweets. Our sweet neighbor was lonely and just happy to have someone to listen to her.
- Lonely people can be persnickety. I find the critical spirit behind a person who is lonely to be a great clue into that person’s heart. I have found that generally sweet people can become cranky if they find themselves lonely. I think of the Johanna Spyre Classic story “Heidi” and how cranky and persnickety the grandfather was before Heidi showed up into his life. He was riddled with loneliness until her companionship entered his world. No one liked him. I have seen normally cranky people soften as they are listened to, noticed, or feel understood.
- Lonely people find comfort in things. We had a dear Sunday School teacher, Miss K, who lived with her mother until her mother passed. After her mother’s death, Miss K, began collecting things. Things upon things lined her small house until she was forced to move out for her safety. She was lonely. She found momentary comfort in the presence of things and so she held onto things. Lonely people can be incredible sentimental, keepers of stuff, and shopaholics. What little old widow doesn’t have her house decked out with sentiment and stuff? She is lonely, and keeping stuff reminds her of those who give or gave her respite from loneliness. In a way, she holds onto people by holding onto their photographs and their stuff.
It is normal to feel lonely. And it is okay to feel lonely. In fact ones loneliness can be a springboard to various ministry to others. I have several dear friends struggling with loneliness, but they use their loneliness as an avenue of understanding others pain, of being their for others, of providing counsel, love, and prayer.
Ministering to lowly people is truly a life-long endeavor. But it is also the backbone of how our faith in God is displayed, as we provide, without grudging, our time and resources to include, bless, and encourage those who are alone. James 1: 27 “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”